TaxTipTuesday-The investment interest expense deduction: Less beneficial than you might think

 

 

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Investment interest — interest on debt used to buy assets held for investment, such as margin debt used to buy securities — generally is deductible for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax purposes. But special rules apply that can make this itemized deduction less beneficial than you might think.

 
Limits on the deduction
First, you can’t deduct interest you incurred to produce tax-exempt income. For example, if you borrow money to invest in municipal bonds, which are exempt from federal income tax, you can’t deduct the interest.

 
Second, and perhaps more significant, your investment interest deduction is limited to your net investment income, which, for the purposes of this deduction, generally includes taxable interest, non-qualified dividends and net short-term capital gains, reduced by other investment expenses. In other words, long-term capital gains and qualified dividends aren’t included.

 
However, any disallowed interest is carried forward. You can then deduct the disallowed interest in a later year if you have excess net investment income.

 
Changing the tax treatment
You may elect to treat net long-term capital gains or qualified dividends as investment income in order to deduct more of your investment interest. But if you do, that portion of the long-term capital gain or dividend will be taxed at ordinary-income rates.

 
If you’re wondering whether you can claim the investment interest expense deduction on your 2016 return, please contact us. We can run the numbers to calculate your potential deduction or to determine whether you could benefit from treating gains or dividends differently to maximize your deduction.

#TaxTipTuesday-Why making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea

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A tried-and-true estate planning strategy is to make tax-free gifts to loved ones during life, because it reduces potential estate tax at death. There are many ways to make tax-free gifts, but one of the simplest is to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion with direct gifts. Even in a potentially changing estate tax environment, making annual exclusion gifts before year end can still be a good idea.

 
What is the annual exclusion?
The 2016 gift tax annual exclusion allows you to give up to $14,000 per recipient tax-free without using up any of your $5.45 million lifetime gift tax exemption. If you and your spouse “split” the gift, you can give $28,000 per recipient. The gifts are also generally excluded from the generation-skipping transfer tax, which typically applies to transfers to grandchildren and others more than one generation below you.

 
The gifted assets are removed from your taxable estate, which can be especially advantageous if you expect them to appreciate. That’s because the future appreciation can also avoid gift and estate taxes.

 
Making gifts in 2016
The exclusion is scheduled to remain at $14,000 ($28,000 for split gifts) in 2017. But that’s not a reason to skip making annual exclusion gifts this year. You need to use your 2016 exclusion by Dec. 31 or you’ll lose it.

 
The exclusion doesn’t carry from one year to the next. For example, if you don’t make an annual exclusion gift to your daughter this year, you can’t add $14,000 to your 2017 exclusion to make a $28,000 tax-free gift to her next year.

 
While the President-elect and Republicans in Congress have indicated that they want to repeal the estate tax, it’s uncertain exactly what tax law changes will be passed, since the Republicans don’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Plus, in some states there’s a state-level estate tax. So if you have a large estate, making 2016 annual exclusion gifts is generally still well worth considering.

 
We can help you determine how to make the most of your 2016 gift tax annual exclusion.

Want to save for education? Make 2016 ESA contributions by December 31

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There are many ways to save for a child’s or grandchild’s education. But one has annual contribution limits, and if you don’t make a 2016 contribution by December 31, the opportunity will be lost forever. We’re talking about Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

How ESAs work

With an ESA, you contribute money now that the beneficiary can use later to pay qualified education expenses:

  • Although contributions aren’t deductible, plan assets can grow tax-deferred, and distributions used for qualified education expenses are tax-free.
  • You can contribute until the child reaches age 18 (except beneficiaries with special needs).
  • You remain in control of the account — even after the child is of legal age.
  • You can make rollovers to another qualifying family member.

Not just for college

One major advantage of ESAs over another popular education saving tool, the Section 529 plan, is that tax-free ESA distributions aren’t limited to college expenses; they also can fund elementary and secondary school costs. That means you can use ESA funds to pay for such qualified expenses as tutoring and private school tuition.

Another advantage is that you have more investment options. So ESAs are beneficial if you’d like to have direct control over how and where your contributions are invested.

Annual contribution limits

The annual contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary. However, the ability to contribute is phased out based on income.

The limit begins to phase out at a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $190,000 for married filing jointly and $95,000 for other filers. No contribution can be made when MAGI hits $220,000 and $110,000, respectively.

Maximizing ESA savings

Because the annual contribution limit is low, if you want to maximize your ESA savings, it’s important to contribute every year in which you’re eligible. The contribution limit doesn’t carry over from year to year. In other words, if you don’t make a $2,000 contribution in 2016, you can’t add that $2,000 to the 2017 limit and make a $4,000 contribution next year.

However, because the contribution limit applies on a per beneficiary basis, before contributing make sure no one else has contributed to an ESA on behalf of the same beneficiary. If someone else has, you’ll need to reduce your contribution accordingly.

Would you like more information about ESAs or other tax-advantaged ways to fund your child’s — or grandchild’s — education expenses? Contact us!

Clean your financial house for the new year

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Out with the old, in with the new. No matter whether you apply the expression to changes in attitude or to life adjustments, the end of the year is a great time to assess your household finances and prepare for new opportunities. Here are suggestions.

 
Review your credit report. Request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. If the reports contain errors, get them corrected.

 
Make or update your home inventory. Go through your house and make a video describing what you see, along with information such as purchase dates, prices, and estimated values. Your home inventory can be vital for getting insurance claims approved in case of disaster.

 
Calculate your net worth. Your net worth is the value of your assets, including your house, personal property, bank accounts, car, and investments, minus liabilities such as your mortgage, credit card balances, and loans. This is a great yardstick for measuring your household’s financial growth (or shrinkage) from year to year.
Increase your savings. If you get a year-end raise, consider contributing a portion of the extra money to your 401(k) plan or other savings account.

 
Purge financial records. If you’re a financial packrat with stacks of old cancelled checks and bank statements that are no longer needed for an IRS audit or your own use, shred them.

 
Need help? Contact our office.

#TaxTipTuesday- There’s Still Time to Benefit on Your 2016 Tax Bill by Buying Business Assets

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In order to take advantage of two important depreciation tax breaks for business assets, you must place the assets in service by the end of the tax year. So you still have time to act for 2016.

 
Section 179 deduction
The Sec. 179 deduction is valuable because it allows businesses to deduct as depreciation up to 100% of the cost of qualifying assets in year 1 instead of depreciating the cost over a number of years. Sec. 179 can be used for fixed assets, such as equipment, software and leasehold improvements. Beginning in 2016, air conditioning and heating units were added to the list.

 
The maximum Sec. 179 deduction for 2016 is $500,000. The deduction begins to phase out dollar-for-dollar for 2016 when total asset acquisitions for the tax year exceed $200,010,000.

 
Real property improvements used to be ineligible. However, an exception that began in 2010 was made permanent for tax years beginning in 2016. Under the exception, you can claim a Sec. 179 deduction of up to $500,000 for certain qualified real property improvement costs.

 
Note: You can use Sec. 179 to buy an eligible heavy SUV for business use, but the rules are different from buying other assets. Heavy SUVs are subject to a $25,000 deduction limitation.

 
First-year bonus depreciation
For qualified new assets (including software) that your business places in service in 2016, you can claim 50% first-year bonus depreciation. (Used assets don’t qualify.) This break is available when buying computer systems, software, machinery, equipment, and office furniture.

 
Additionally, 50% bonus depreciation can be claimed for qualified improvement property, which means any eligible improvement to the interior of a nonresidential building if the improvement is made after the date the building was first placed in service. However, certain improvements aren’t eligible, such as enlarging a building and installing an elevator or escalator.

 
Contemplate what your business needs now
If you’ve been thinking about buying business assets, consider doing it before year end. This article explains only some of the rules involved with the Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation tax breaks. Contact us for ideas on how you can maximize your depreciation deductions.

Are you contemplating year-end-tax-related moves? Focus on the big picture.

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Some tax-cutting strategies make good financial sense. Others are simply bad ideas, often because tax considerations are allowed to override basic economics.

 

 

 

Here’s one example of the tax tail wagging the economic dog. Let’s say that you operate an unincorporated consulting business. You want an additional tax write-off, so you decide to buy $10,000 of office furniture that you don’t really need. If you’re in the 28% tax bracket and you deduct the entire cost, this purchase will trim your tax bill by $2,800 (28% of $10,000). But even after the tax break, you’ll still be out of pocket $7,200 ($10,000 minus $2,800) – and stuck with furniture that you don’t really need.

Other situations in which the focus on tax considerations ignores the bigger financial picture include:

● Increasing the size of a home mortgage, solely to get a larger tax deduction for mortgage interest.

● Hesitating to pay off a mortgage, just to keep the interest deduction.

● Turning down extra income, due to worries about being “pushed into a higher tax bracket.”

● Holding an appreciated asset indefinitely, solely to avoid paying the capital gains tax.

Tax-cutting strategies are part of a bigger financial picture. If you’re contemplating year-end tax-related moves, we can help make sure that everything stays in focus.

To maximize what goes to loved ones vs. Uncle Sam, you need to carefully plan your gifts

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Giving away assets during your life will help reduce the size of your taxable estate, which is beneficial if you have a large estate that could be subject to estate taxes. For 2016, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $5.45 million (twice that for married couples with proper estate planning strategies in place).

Even if your estate tax isn’t large enough for estate taxes to be a concern, there are income tax consequences to consider. Plus it’s possible the estate tax exemption could be reduced or your wealth could increase significantly in the future, and estate taxes could become a concern.

That’s why, no matter your current net worth, it’s important to choose gifts wisely. Consider both estate and income tax consequences and the economic aspects of any gifts you’d like to make.

Here are three strategies for tax-smart giving:

1. To minimize estate tax, gift property with the greatest future appreciation potential. You’ll remove that future appreciation from your taxable estate.

2. To minimize your beneficiary’s income tax, gift property that hasn’t appreciated significantly while you’ve owned it. The beneficiary can sell the property at a minimal income tax cost.

3. To minimize your own income tax, don’t gift property that’s declined in value. Instead, consider selling the property so you can take the tax loss. You can then gift the sale proceeds.

For more ideas on tax-smart giving strategies, contact us.

 

 

 

Here’s What to Consider as You Make Asset Purchasing Decisions This Year

 

Did you know that a recent law made changes to the section 179 expensing election for 2016? These modifications took effect as of January 1. Here’s what to consider as you make asset purchasing decisions this year.
Change #1. Beginning in 2016, section 179 is indexed for inflation. This year, the basic section 179 expensing limit will be $500,000. That limit is reduced dollar-for-dollar once your purchases exceed $2,010,000.
Change #2. The definition of “section 179 property” now permanently includes computer software and real property such as qualified leasehold and retail improvements and restaurant property. That means you can elect to use section 179 expensing when you purchase those assets.
Change #3. You may be able to deduct more of qualified leasehold and retail improvements and restaurant property in 2016. Beginning this year, the law eliminated the $250,000 cap on the amount of section 179 you could claim for this property.
Change #4. Beginning in 2016, air conditioning and heating units are eligible for section 179 expensing.

 
Contact us for help in maximizing the section 179 deduction for your business asset purchases.